It was 34 years ago that Toronto installed its first and immediately controversial bike lane on Poplar Plains Road, just south of St. Clair Avenue. Though the controversy could have been thanks to poor city planning at the time, it was largely due to a city that was not yet ready for such progress. In the 70’s, cars were the leading mode of transportation for city dwellers. Forty years later, this isn’t the case. Facing huge issues like global warming, a post-recession economy and a general widening of North America’s population, the bike is increasingly becoming the new car. It’s greener, cheaper, quicker, healthier, and more reliable than driving or taking the TTC.
Biking is now increasingly recognized and embraced by Torontonians as a primary mode of transportation. Today, in excess of 20,000 people ride a bike as their primary means of transportation in Toronto. Weather permitting (except for those who dare to cycle in snow and ice-covered streets), residents of the city recognize the eco-friendly and cost-effective merits of the bicycle. So why haven’t city planners followed suit? Why, given this trend, are they removing lanes from city streets instead of choosing to implement more?
More still, Toronto is lagging far behind scheduled progress as outlined in the City of Toronto’s Official Bike Plan, which called for 495 km of bike lanes by 2011. Instead, we have only 111.6 km of existing lanes installed since the plan’s 2001 approval. In 2012, there was actually a net reduction of lanes, thanks to the removal of the Jarvis Streets’s centre lane. So what’s happening? Why is Toronto so conflicted?
The Jarvis Bike Lane Fiasco
Just two years after former Mayor David Miller installed the bike lanes on Jarvis, current Mayor Rob Ford had them removed. In an unnecessary waste of taxpayer’s money, car drivers and advocates of cycling fought for the upper hand. Drivers complained of a longer commute to work, while the cyclists demanded a safe and bike-friendly Jarvis Street. The longer commute for automobile drivers was estimated at 2 minutes, or the equivalent of standing in line for a coffee. Somehow, though, we doubt Tim Hortons or Starbucks will be boycotted next. As we all know by now, the cars won the fight. Returning the road to its old configuration cost somewhere between an estimated $280,000 and $300,000. Installing the lanes only cost $86,000.
“You’re not going to remove cyclists by removing bicycle lanes. They are still going to be there. They’re just going to be riding very unsafely,” said Kristyn Wong-Tam, the councilor whose ward includes Jarvis Street.
Unfortunately, and predictably, removing the Jarvis bike lanes isn’t going to miraculously solve the problem of traffic in Toronto. Reported as the worst city in North America for traffic, it’s going to take more than one extra car lane to make a difference. In fact, discouraging biking will arguably worsen the matter. Every bike left in the shed due to the removal of the Jarvis lane means more cars and greater amounts of pollution on the road. Encouraging people to get in their cars, and off their bicycles, may be the very reason Toronto is facing this issue. More so, by empowering drivers and disenfranchising cyclists, the city becomes less pedestrian-friendly and, more importantly, arguably less enlightened. As other leading cities like Montreal and Vancouver expand their cycling infrastructure, Toronto remains remarkably stagnant.
So, where is Toronto going from here? Rob Ford’s popularity seems to be declining, so his support base for the war against the bike lane may be dwindling as well. There’s a new 2013 budget which contains funding for 80 kilometres of on-street bike path connections, as well as several thousand new bike parking spaces over the next ten years. Is this enough? What’s of utmost importance is for major streets in the city to include bike lanes- both for the safety of cyclists and to help mitigate the currently high levels of street congestion. Currently, bike lanes are few and far between, restricting direct commute for cyclists to any major areas, and forcing cyclists to take to the roads once more. By implementing more cycling infrastructure, perhaps we can benefit pedestrians, cyclists, and car drivers alike.
But, the question remains – where do we need it most? With parking space at a premium in today’s growing condo market, where are bike lanes the most crucial? Based on suggestions by cycling experts, the following list outlines some key areas in need of bike lanes:
Wellesley-Harbord-Hoskin corridor- from Parliament Street to Ossington Avenue
This stretch already has a bike lane, but it could be better, namely through the installation of separated bike lanes. Painted bike lanes, while decent, don’t shield cyclists from fast moving traffic as effectively as those demarcated with a raised curb or some other means of separation. The high traffic volume of these streets favours physically separated cycling lanes.
Harbord doesn’t have a streetcar on it, it doesn’t have as many businesses on it, and so the parking demands are less, therefore morale for installing better bike lanes should be high.
A cycle track is supposedly coming to the corridor over the next two years.
Dupont Street- from Dundas West to Yonge Street (via Davenport Road)
This route is a good connector. Cyclists can come all the way from the west and ride over to Yonge. There’s currently a commitment to perform an environmental assessment on the Dupont bike lane to determine how it interacts with the Dundas intersection and how it can be taken further east. However, this plan won’t be put into motion until 2014/2015.
University-Avenue corridor- from Eglinton Avenue to Front Street
If a bike lane went up at University Avenue and Avenue Road, it could connect almost as far north as Eglinton. It would also be in the core of the city, and thus would act as an important north-south connector for people from adjacent neighbourhoods. This corridor also hits important business and school hot spots, like the University Health Network, the U of T St. George Campus, and Queen’s Park.
Richmond and Adelaide- from Sherbourne Street to Bathurst Street
At the start of the year, the City announced an environmental assessment on Richmond and Adelaide. Richmond and Adelaide were also identified in the Bike Plan of 2001 that we mentioned earlier, which demonstrates the high demand for a bike lane along this corridor. The 2001 Plan highlighted that 15,000 cyclists travelling to and from the downtown core on a weekday and mentioned the fact that there was no other east-west bikeway between the College/Gerrard bike lanes and the Martin Goodman Trail along the waterfront. Today, the number of cyclists travelling to and from the downtown core has more than doubled, and cyclists still don’t currently have an east-west bikeway located within this area.
The question is whether the bike lane should be uni-, or bi-directional. If it’s uni-directional, it will be necessary to take out one lane of vehicular traffic on Richmond and one lane on Adelaide to cover both east and west travelers. If the lane is made to be bi-directional, then only one street will have to be altered, which is an advantage. The other implication with a bi-directional lane, though would be the cost, because when you install a bi-directional lane you’ve got to put in a signalized intersection.
The study recommends a single lane on each of the two one-way streets, running in the same direction as vehicular traffic in both cases. The other option would be to incorporate one street, Richmond or Adelaide, to be selected for a bi-directional bike route. No matter the final choice, the environmental study of a Richmond-Adelaide bike corridor should be completed by the end of 2013, making next year’s construction start a tangible possibility.
Bloor-Danforth- from High Park Avenue to Woodbine Avenue
Bloor-Danforth is perfectly suited for a bike lane. There are no streetcar tracks. It connects the west end of the city to downtown, through the east end, and beyond. It doesn’t have any surface transit, just a subway underneath. It’s very heavily used and is one of the few streets that crosses the city in a straight line. It also has a lot of flat surfaces and a lot of destinations lie on its thoroughfare.
So, it seems as if the City on Toronto is back on the right path. Despite the Jarvis issue, which hopefully is a one-time lack of better judgment, Toronto’s new bike plan may be the solution the city needs to progress into the 21st century. Creating better transit for cyclists is the first step to becoming a first class city that values all commuters. Keep a lookout over the next few years as Toronto may become a bike-friendly city right before your eyes.
If you’re passionate about bike routes and the cycling forecast for Toronto, then tell us what you think! Is Toronto in need of more bike lanes, or will it only exacerbate the traffic and congestion downtown? What do you believe is best for our city?
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